Where’s Console Gaming Going?

I don’t think I’ve actually gone on at length about what I think of “the $60 game problem” and whether or not traditional console gaming is getting usurped because of it. Recent articles from Wired among other places have caused the issue to resurface, and I think this is a clue as to what changes we’re gonna see during the next console cycle.

It seems like almost everybody’s saying that free-to-play gaming, social gaming, mobile gaming, and what have you are the future while bemoaning the $50-$60 pieces of plastic. I don’t think these people are wrong, but I’m still having trouble seeing the bridge between here and what those people are envisioning.

Personally, I agree with those saying that it’s not worth paying $60 for most games these days, and I choose not to. Just hearing the MSRPG for console games rise to $60 made me more selective about what I buy. I’ve played most of my console games this generation through GameFly, and only paid full price for my absolute favorite games. Over the last four years I’ve bought probably close to 200 PC games from various digital services – and paid $50-$60 for less than 10 of them. While I’d like to call out Angry Birds’ success by pointing out that no one else has really repeated it, I have bought a lot of $1 games for my iPhone.

I keep seeing more and more people who are hesitant to buy new releases too, exploiting some kind of scheme or sale, or waiting for price drops on games that don’t quite sell. That’s almost the common thing wherever I look now. I think that this, along with the emergence of the new markets, is a response to those expenses that also shows how rigid the conventional console market is. The head of EA has admitted to how much market share console gaming has lost. Something’s gonna have to give, but I’m not sure what yet.

Here’s the thing: conventional consoles still have a hold over living room gaming. All those other markets – Steam, F2P, social, and iOS are on computers and mobile devices, not the TV and your couch. They haven’t quite made their move into that territory yet. You have XBLA and PSN, but those are still tightly controlled by Sony and Microsoft along with the big game publishers. That’s why I don’t think any of those new markets directly threaten consoles yet. When you can easily play all those $1 and F2P games on your TV, then we can start talking.

From what I can see, there are two things that could happen to bring this about: Firstly, I personally think that at least one of the console manufacturers should adapt to the landscape that’s changed around them. I think that manufacturer is gonna be Microsoft, as the Xbox is already being turned into a general entertainment device. People are starting to desire dedicated devices less and general-purpose hardware more, but no one has made a hugely successful general-purpose set-top box yet. Microsoft has an opportunity to be the first, offering music, TV, movies, and games all together.

After that I think Microsoft (or whoever) would just have to loosen up a bit on the pricing of their digital content. Consoles are gonna have to eventually accept F2P games, and we can’t have Plants vs Zombies on PSN costing five times its iTunes price. I personally want to see variable pricing above all else.

The second thing that may happen is that someone running these new gaming markets – probably Apple, will release their own general set top box that will offer quick and affordable entertainment, including games. If we can get an Apple TV with full App Store support, it’ll definitely change things. Cheap, quickly accessible games would start being developed for the living room environment which, given Apple’s hardware advances, could one day compete with conventional console games.

Either way, quick, cheap, and accessible digital gaming is looking like a more and more likely future for the industry. I think it’s just a matter of time until it fully enters the console space. The hardware manufacturers and publishers need to figure out how they’re going to be ready. I don’t think console gaming is just gonna let it self get squeezed out of the equation.

BULLETS:

  • Finally saw The Raid: Redemption which just started showing in general theaters across the US. Amazing action flick.
  • SpellTower – one of the most mind-crunching iOS games, is still a dollar.
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